Season 1, Episode 22:
No Good Deed
Reese is shadowing Finch one morning, trying to find out more about him. Finch is buying breakfast when he receives a text message; he goes to the nearest payphone, picks up the handset, listens for a few moments, and hangs up before calling Reese to tell him they have a new number. When they meet, Reese asks Finch about how the Machine communicates, so he could carry on their work if something ever happened to him, but Finch simply tells him there is a contingency in place and says no more about it.
The newest number is Henry Peck, seemingly a financial analyst for a New York business firm but really an intelligence analyst for the NSA who works in their Manhattan listening post. As Reese and Finch observe, Peck is framed for drug abuse and fired from his job, and eventually a highly-trained assassin turns up at Peck's apartment and tries to kill him. Reese intervenes and saves Peck, but he gets away. With Finch eavesdropping, Peck manages to call the NSA Deputy Director: he explains that someone's trying to kill him for asking questions about a name that appeared in one of his reports, a name he'd never heard and didn't write, that single-handedly led to the government stopping a major terrorist act. He gets stonewalled, but Finch realizes why the government is trying to kill Peck: he's unwittingly stumbled onto the Machine. Finch explains to Reese that the government department controlling the Machine is ruthless about keeping knowledge of it secret, implying that such ruthlessness resulted in his injuries. Peck contacts Alicia Corwin to try and find out more, but she only gives him one tiny clue to go on: "Sibilance".
Peck breaks into the NSA listening post to gather information, while Reese and Finch observe, not wanting to intervene and reveal any more about the Machine than Peck already knows. Peck discovers that "Sibilance" was an NSA digital audit, obliquely revealing that massive amounts of intelligence data is being sent and received on a secret wavelength, and conclusively realizes that the Machine exists. The assassin ambushes Peck at the listening post but Reese intervenes again. In order to expose what he knows, Peck gets himself arrested and tells everything to the first officer that talks to him — which is Fusco, who simply dismisses Peck as a raving nutcase. Reese breaks Peck out of prison but isn't quick enough to stop him calling someone in the Office of Special Council; Finch reveals that someone high up in the Office is part of the Machine's inner circle, meaning their location has been compromised. From the phone call, the assassin is able to find Reese and Peck and take out their car. He and Reese fight, and Reese barely wins, but Peck gets away again. Finch intercepts a message from Peck arranging a meeting with a reporter for the next day, and shows up instead. He confirms Peck's suspicions about the Machine but encourages him to start a new life rather than continue asking questions, and gives him the money and means to do so. When asked how he knows all this, Finch admits it's because he built the Machine.
Most of Peck's evidence was destroyed in the wreckage of his and Reese's escape vehicle, but Carter finds a single scrap of paper that reads "Sibilance". Reese follows clues from around the library to find the coffee cart where Finch goes regularly, and then what he believes is Finch's house, but it's not: the sole occupant is Grace, an artist and Finch's ex-fiance who believes he died several years earlier. When Reese leaves, he sees Finch watching the house. Finch admits that he was engaged to Grace, and faked his death to protect her from the Machine.
In flashbacks to 2009, the Machine has been completed and Finch is making the final adjustments before it's turned over to the government; the hardware will be shipped via freight train to a secure location, and no one will have access to the servers or the operating system. Nathan is still upset about the "irrelevant" persons of interest being ignored, and also comments that Finch should start putting some time and effort into his own life. Finch implies that there already is someone in his life, but Nathan doesn't believe it, sure that he'd know if Finch had met someone. Later, Nathan meets Alicia Corwin for drinks and to discuss the details of the handover, such as how the Machine's intelligence will be disseminated to the government and how many people know of its existence. Nathan offhandedly comments that only eight people know about the Machine, but Alicia corrects him: only seven people should know. He tries to pass it off as a mistake but she's unconvinced. Afterwards, Nathan returns to IFT to ask Finch about adding a contingency to the Machine, in case the government ever abused it, but Finch refuses on the ground that a backdoor would create a gap in the security that someone could exploit. Finch shuts down the Machine's hardware to prepare for the handover, but later, Nathan returns, reboots the system and adds a new core program called "Contingency".
In the coda, we revisit Finch's conversation with Peck, but learn that Alicia was sitting at a nearby table, listening in. She hears when Finch admits he built the Machine and is visibly shocked and scared by the revelation.
Tropes present in this episode include
- Analogy BackfireReese: Sooner or later, you're going to have to let the cat out of the bag.
Finch: Curiosity kills cats, Mr Reese.
- Assassin Outclassin': Reese's modus operandi in this episode, as in many episodes.
- The Beard: Nathan says he's this for Finch, posing as the supposed inventor of the Machine.
- Cassandra Truth: Peck deduces the existence of the Machine while thinking out loud in the police interrogation room. Cut to a bemused Fusco:Fusco: ... Okay, you want a soda or something?
- Finch: I suppose we can count our blessings Detective Fusco isn't the inquisitive type.
- Chekhov's Gunman: Special Counsel aka Pennsylvania Two makes his debut.
- Conspiracy Thriller
- Continuity Nod: Finch comments that the numbers "can't all be babies and Mafia dons."
- Climactic Music: David Bowie's "I'm Afraid of Americans". And yes, you should be.
- Deadpan Snarker:
Reese: So how'd you get his number?
- Finch can't resist jibing Reese about his inability to charm his way past the receptionist.
- Not to mention:
Finch: Well, John, there's this Machine...
- Determinator: Peck once wrote a 78 page legal brief to get out of paying a ticket. This tips Reese off that he's not going to drop the matter that got him marked for death easily.
- Double Meaning: During his initial briefing to Reese, Finch suddenly asks, "Are you following me?" Most obviously, he's asking if Reese is paying attention, since he seems more interested in his book. However, he also could be referring to Reese covertly surveilling him in the previous scene - and the end of the episode seems to indicate he's definitely aware of Reese's extracurricular activities.
- Early Installment Weirdness: This is the first time we see Finch receive a number from The Machine, and in this case, he gets a text message on his own phone and then picks up the nearest payphone without it ever ringing. In all future instances of getting a number, the payphone rings to get his attention.
- Elite Mooks: The Intelligence Support Activity. Even John has his hands full trying to get rid of each member of the hit squad sent after Peck.
- Explain, Explain... Oh, Crap!: Peck, expositing after he is arrested by the police.Peck: Someone was sneaking just as much data out as the NSA was taking in. To scan through all that, you'd need an organization ten times our size. It's more than any human—
[Machine-POV of Peck looking suspiciously up at the interrogation room's security camera]
Peck: [to himself] Oh my god, they actually built it...
- Failure Is the Only Option: The Aesop Finch gives to Peck.
- Faking the Dead: Peck and (in the past) Finch.
- Peck is attempting to call "Alicia" in the opening scenes of the episode.
- Leaning on the Fourth Wall: Fusco says he's meeting with the HR bosses next week. This happens in next week's episode.
- The talk of a "contingency" if something happens to Finch.
- After Make It Look Like an Accident is invoked by the ISA, Grace says that her fiance Harold died in an accident.
- Freeze-Frame Bonus: When playing Peck's phone conversation, the photo of the man on the other end of the line has the NSA emblem on the background, long before Peck is revealed to be an NSA employee.
- Get into Jail Free: After fleeing a hit squad, Peck throws a bottle at a police car so they'll take him into custody, along with the evidence he's found.
- He Knows Too Much: And worse, Peck doesn't even know what he knows.
- Ironic Echo: Alicia told Nathan they will be assembling the Machine "someplace where no one's gonna go looking". Nathan then jokes that they will all be sent "someplace where no one's gonna go looking" if the Machine is discovered.
- It's Not You, It's My Enemies: Finch left Grace — and faked his death — to keep her safe from the effects of the Machine.
- Laser Sight
- Make It Look Like an Accident:
- Lampshaded by the hit team when they point out it's no longer possible due to Reese's intervention. They were going to make Peck's death look like suicide via an overdose of pills.
- Finch apparently 'died' in an accident a couple of years ago, implied to be a similar hit.
- Must Have Caffeine: Finch gathers intelligence on the NSA outpost by wagering that their staff is a bunch of caffeine addicts and slipping a coffee machine rigged with a camera into their mail. It works.
- Oddly Overtrained Security: Justified
- Ominous Mundanity: Intelligence Support Activity, the military black ops unit hunting Peck.
- Override Command: Nathan creates a back door into the Machine without Finch's knowledge.
- Overt Rendezvous: This backfires on Finch when he reveals himself as the creator of the Machine, while sitting in an outdoor table in a coffee shop. At the end of the episode we revisit the scene to see Alicia Corwin at a nearby table sitting with her back to them, but with a small rifle microphone sitting on the table pointed in Finch's direction.
- Punch-Clock Villain: Reese asks the dying assassin if he knows why they ordered him to kill Peck. He replies, "I never asked."
- Run or Die: Alicia and later Finch urges Peck to give up his quest and just flee. He eventually takes their advice.
- Saying Too Much:
- It's implied that Nathan's lead to his own death and Finch's injuries.Nathan: Eight people in the world know it exists. We need to keep it that way.
Alicia: Seven, Nathan. Seven people, unless you told someone.
Nathan: [Oh, Crap! face] ...Come on, Alicia, you know I'm terrible at math.
- Finch tells Peck he built the Machine, not knowing that a third party is listening in.
- It's implied that Nathan's lead to his own death and Finch's injuries.
- Shown Their Work: In his conversation with Fusco in the interrogation room, Peck mentions three real-life government research programs—"Trailblazer", TIA ("Total Information Awareness"), and "Stellar Wind"—all of which were attempts to build a data-mining system similar to The Machine—and also mentions the "Shannon limit," the theoretical maximum information transfer rate of a communications channel for a particular noise level.
- Similar Squad: Peck for Finch and Reese for the military hitman.
- Shoot the Fuel Tank: The ISA snipes the taxi Reese is driving twice, one shot to puncture the tank and the second to ignite it.
- Stock Episode Titles
- Swiss Cheese Security: Averted, which is what tips off our heroes that the 'business' Peck works for is more than it seems.
- That's What I Would Do: Invoked by Reese, to find the ISA hit squad.
- Vehicle Vanish: The government assassin does one while being tailed by Reese.
- Who Are You?: Which isn't a question Reese can afford to answer.
- Whole Plot Reference: Peck is living out Three Days of the Condor.
- You Have to Believe Me!
- You Remind Me of X: Peck reminds Finch of himself.